By Ian Morton | Profiles in Advocacy
Members of the LGBTQ+ community have often found themselves in a dynamic of a “two family system”; their family of birth and their family of choice. So when May, and Mother’s Day comes around, many of us find ourselves reflecting, not only on the mother(s) who may have raised us, but the women who have come into our lives as adults.
One such community matriarch is “Mama” Sandy Reinhart, who has created an international family of leather folk who demonstrate leadership and a spirit of volunteerism.
First dubbed “Mama” by popular drag persona “Ernestine” at the Phoenix Bar in San Francisco 18 years ago, little did Reinhart know that the moniker would take on literal meaning in the leather community.
Mama began building a family organically, by awarding individuals a gold “Mama’s Pin” that bore the name that she chose for them, as a sign of affection. Ray Tilton is Mama’s “husband,” Ernestine was named “Mama’s firstborn,” and others in the first group include “Mama’s #1 Brat,” “Mama’s Wicked One,” and “Mama’s #1 Bad Boy.”
The thread that has continued — through the naming of over 200 family members — is a dedication to serving others through community service and volunteerism, often while holding titles.
Often called upon to judge contests around the world, Reinhart uses the opportunity to observe who shows intention and thoughtfulness in their community work, and often the next time that individual sees “Mama,” they find themselves inducted into the family. It is worth noting that the family includes not only titleholder representatives from just about every leather competition, but also those from the Imperial Court, Ducals and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Additionally, there are politicians such as California State Senator Mark Leno and even some famous gay icons, such as Armistead Maupin.
Originally from Cuba, Reinhart first became involved in the U.S. Leather community 30 years ago, during the AIDS epidemic.
“I encountered so many who became infected and needed funding for medications, food, and other basic needs, so I started doing fundraising,” she explained. “These were my boys and friends who needed this help and the men that wanted to step up and help me were amazing. The naming began as my fun way to acknowledge them, and suddenly my ‘family’ included folks from the U.S., France, Canada, Italy, and beyond.”
Included in Mama’s Family are many San Diegans, including the current owner and producer of the International Olympus Leather Contest, Yvonne “Vonn” Tramel (Mama’s Webn8rx) and 2017 Ms. San Diego Leather, Tamanava “Tammy” Eden-McLintock (Mama’s Broomstick). Both ladies have experienced recent successes, with Tammy having been awarded her title in March 2017, and Vonn having produced Olympus Leather Weekend in San Diego at the beginning of May.
I was honored to have a chance to catch up with them, to discuss the leadership of women in the community and how it felt to be a part of Mama’s Family.
Vonn revealed that her Mama’s name — a hybrid of “webmaster” and “dominatrix” — actually originated outside of the leather community.
“It was the internet handle given to me when I began working search engine optimization for an internet phone sex company,” Vonn said. “It was there I discovered a knack for ‘playing chess’ with Google and the other search engines, and getting my girls’ web pages to the top searches of some really ‘competitive phrases.’ My boss called me a ‘webinatrix’ for my ability to seemingly control and dominate the placement of the characters and websites in my care. This moniker stuck with me and now I’m known as Mama’s Webn8rx.”
In addition to being the current Ms. San Diego Leather, Tammy is engaged as a leader in many other organizations, including Girl Scouts (with her daughter), the Imperial Court de San Diego, and San Diego Pagan Pride, as well as Club X and San Diego Girls of Leather. Her upbringing included many of the tenants of leather protocol, such as personal responsibility and honoring commitments, so she found a comfortable and familiar sense of home in the community. As a woman who exists in an extremely diverse advocacy intersection, we spoke about how she navigated those waters.
“For me it’s just natural,” Tammy said. “Growing up in a large multi-ethnic and diverse family, this sense of an ‘evolutionary mixture’ is very natural to me. My personal motto is ‘In service to others, in service to self,’ so I help where I am needed and wanted, which feeds my soul.”
This personal journey has also informed her current title year, as her platform is building volunteerism in the San Diego leather and broader community. She has had great success in linking folks to advocacy and events by helping individuals to recognize their talents and demonstrating how they can do good in the community. Her challenge to those around her is to “do one thing” every month.
Circling back to Vonn, we discussed her newfound role as the producer of an international contest and how the community has stepped up to support her leadership.
“I’m beholden to my community, my clan,” Vonn said. “The words ‘thank you’ seem so insignificant when I think about the people who helped make it happen; this horde of beautiful people who just appeared and helped get it done. The support of both my biological and chosen family showed me what community really is.”
Mama Sandy, Vonn and Tammy all represent the organic matrilineal evolution that may be seen in the international leather community, as they learn from each other and mentor other women, further strengthening the family ties.
Through their efforts, community members are seeing a broadening of diversity and the prioritization of character and honor as an individual’s valued aspects.
For more information about “Mama’s Family,” including the full list of members, visit mamas-family.org.
—Ian D. Morton is the director of operations at San Diego Human Dignity Foundation and produces the Y.E.S. San Diego LGBTQ youth conference. To nominate an individual or nonprofit for this column, please email the information to firstname.lastname@example.org.